As the two-time defending champions enter training camp and prepare their title defense against a number of formidable contenders vying to dethrone them as world champs, here are some major developments to follow during the Lakers quest for Trophy No. 17:
With all due respect to Ron Artest, the Tru Warier on this Lakers team is Kobe Bean Bryant. Hampered by a balky knee, swollen ankles and mangled fingers on his shooting hand, the Black Mamba inured to injuries by consistently playing at an MVP level in spite of all his encumbrances. However, Kobe still missed 9 games last year, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering he only missed 7 games in the previous four years combined, his injuries are a cause for concern.
While Lakers fans are not used to seeing Kobe miss games, they’re getting too accustomed to observing Andrew Bynum sitting on the sidelines. With news that Bynum is likely out until late November, Pau Gasol is a safe bet to start the season at center with Lamar Odom playing alongside him in the starting frontcourt, instead of assuming his role as captain of the second unit.
The reserves must stay healthy and be able to log in some playing time to give the starters rest throughout the year. In Bynum’s absence, the team’s depth will be tested, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing until one thinks back to injuries for Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton.
The Machine looks healthy and eager to re-gain his shooting form and re-establish his role as the much-needed outside shooter they signed him to be, especially in a contract year. Although it’s difficult to predict whether or not Luke Walton’s back will hold up, his mastery of the Triangle is vital considering all the new players trying to learn the offense.
In his first season with the Lakers, “To shoot or not to shoot” was the constant conundrum that besieged Ron Artest. And more often times than not, he seemed to make the wrong decision, evidenced by the resounding echo of “Nooooooooo!” from spectators at Staples Center every time he took an ill-advised three-pointer.
To put it kindly, Artest fit into the Lakers offense as well as Ellen DeGeneres did on the judging panel for American Idol. But Ron-Ron redeemed himself during the playoffs, with stellar defensive play, a fortuitous tip-in at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and an invaluable contribution in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. When the confetti finished falling and the all the dust was cleared, Ron Artest had Lakers fans singing along to “Champion” and those who were skeptical of his signing were left saying, “Trevor, who?”
In year one of the Ron Artest project, he did his best to be a good teammate, often sacrificing too much of his individual game for the sake of the team. In Year 2, with Ron grasping more of the intricacies and nuances of the Triangle, I think we can count on hearing shout-outs to Queensbridge a lot more frequently at the end of games this season.
Next: New Additions